Bonnie Prince Charlie.

By Carolly Erickson

Printed: 1993

Publisher: Robson Books. London

Dimensions 17 × 24 × 4 cm

Language: English

Size (cminches): 17 x 24 x 4

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In the original dustsheet. Navy cloth binding with gilt title on the spine.

  • F.B.A. provides an in-depth photographic presentation of this item to stimulate your feeling and touch. More traditional book descriptions are immediately available.

Traces the life of the pretender to the British throne and discusses his influence on European and British history.

Review: That byname again, that man again. ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ by Carolly Erickson is a biography of Charles Edward Stuart penned in 1989 but first published on these shores in 2001. In the year preceding and in a real tour-de-force exploration, Scottish author Frank McLynn advanced to my mind the best available biography of Charles, thirty-four years on still widely regarded as a fulcrum, benchmark study. Even so, in a male-dominated branch of academia, refreshing it is to gain a female interpretation of matters – the fairer sex oftentimes possessing an emotional intelligence in advance of male counterparts, with McLynn an obvious exception to this loose generalization. Erickson can be pardoned for citing only David Daiches’ solid 1973 biography of Charles in a reasonable, if slightly lightweight citation pool; in all likelihood the American author having begun her work here well prior to McLynn’s being published. Erickson is an accomplished writer, that much is plain, though her prose, while descriptively strong, is more that akin to that of a novelist as opposed to an historian. Erickson then is at her best in employing descriptive writing, a fine standing example in Bonnie Prince Charlie being her evocation of Rome’s carnival but ultimately decadent 18th century setting; a profound sense of atmosphere exuding from the pages.

Returning again to the notion of emotional intelligence, Erickson’s overall judgement is well founded, sophisticated and on a regular basis, intelligibly elucidated. Erickson neglects not to arraign Charles when merited, praise when called for, nor adjudicate when necessary on a man who sharply divides opinion even today. Like any biography or historical text for that matter, there are points made occupying solid ground, but also those some readers could deem highly disputable, indicative perhaps of the complexity at play with Charles’ personality.

Still, Erickson demonstrates lucid grasp in equitably relating the part of Charles’ life where he ultimately saw to the demise of his own legacy and standing in public perception, that from September 1746 onwards. Perchance attributable to ‘a woman’s intuition’, Erickson points to domestic violence as being considered ‘a right’ of 18th century masculinity though correctly highlights the excessive nature (all domestic violence is unacceptable today to any overtly Feminist tub thumpers whose hackles this may raise) of that meted out by Charles, particularly upon Scottish mistress, Clementina Walkinshaw. If any ammunition to supplement anti-Jacobite British propaganda of the time was required, Charles truly was the gift that kept on giving, coupling that with well-documented, overly public displays of drunkenness, if not utter irrationality back in exile. Worth noting too and prudently alluded to by Erickson, some of this concerned with Charles comes from the acerbic, disillusioned pen of Elcho.

Charles the son. By any measure, Charles’ interpersonal relationships with either of his parents were plainly defective. Erickson in discussing Clementina Sobierka’s unstable personality make-up does not develop the point to the extent seen in McLynn’s masterful analysis which cites Charles’ conspicuous indifference to religion as stemming from aversion to his mother’s Catholic mania. Clementina was a deeply disruptive influence upon Charles in especial: a real religious wackadoo who prioritised totally and utterly her own excessive piety over nurturing her two sons through childhood. In drawing parallels between the “mercurial” nature shared by mother and son, Erickson’s standpoint seems sound enough but nevertheless neglects to identify areas of sharp divergence, particularly around social tolerance. James is an altogether different proposition. Yes, it would appear he did contrive to make carping at Charles something of a lawn sport but frankly what caring parent doesn’t? What James was striving at was shaping his son as a future king: his own seemingly melancholy, brooding disposition, seized upon by critical onlookers as proof of his own unsuitability to be king, amounts to inconsequential. To an individual as testy, as egotistical and as impulsive as Charles, however, what ought to comprise standard-fare parental criticisms instead set in motion an interminable, irreparable father-son fracture line. Charles the man. In proposing Charles a narcissistic individual, Erickson is certainly provisioning food for thought, though once again the idea could have been further capitalised upon. Parasitical (the French, Italian States, the Papacy, Scottish Jacobites), brimming with hubris, entitled, conceited and olympian – there are cogent arguments to be made in support of Erickson’s penetrating school of thought. But thoroughgoing narcissism is increasingly understood to comprise a mental affliction bearing correlations with various, serious personality disorders. Charles undoubtedly possessed a measure of conscience, as evinced by extreme bouts of psychosomatic trauma, one such related by Erickson in a well-known episode where an English visitor unknowingly inquired as to Charles’ thoughts on his Highland Jacobite following several years after the ’45.

Charles the commander. This certainly constitutes the weakest aspect of Erickson’s biography. Erickson follows a well-trodden, now largely disproven path lauding and romanticising Lord Murray’s role in events in a now cliched, not entirely appropriate juxtaposition with that of Charles. Militarily, in several facets Murray was good – very good – but mastermind he was not and Charles’ later summation of his lieutenant general’s capacity, opining Lord George would have made a “fine dragoon” is a hyperbole still and all not without a measure of truth. Erickson’s grasp of Charles’ clan contingent is weak: yes, they were men capable of white-hot violence, they were temperamentally capable of turning on a six-pence but a compulsive propensity to violence is a markedly different matter than the pitch of ferocity clansmen were capable of meting out. Likewise, actively seeking out conflict is an altogether different consideration to the capacity to ‘look after’ oneself. What is being alluded to here by Erickson is indiscipline when clanspeople in actuality appeared to regard poor behaviours as beneath their collective dignity; this in turn bound up in a form of genealogical exceptionalism. Old men and young lads being caught in a cross-fire at Culloden all makes for heroic stuff indeed but here it can only be regarded sensationalist fact-stretching designed to capture a wide audience attention. One of those ‘boys’ (more aptly young men in all likelihood), incidentally, seemingly felled more than a dozen British infantrymen at Prestonpans – the account believable in that the lad himself expressed that he did not know whether he had killed those mentioned or not; in other words this was no brag.

Carolly Erickson’s Bonnie Prince Charlie could be best summarised as popular history, targeted at a wide potential readership with the book strong on entertainment value but apertured in fact recital. As a curious aside, some of Erickson’s explanatory notes actually make for more informative reading than the weaker aspects of her book outlined above! Still, a woman’s intuition is welcome and certainly put to good use in components of Carolly Erickson’s Bonnie Prince Charlie biography.


Charles Edward Louis John Sylvester Maria Casimir Stuart (31 December 1720 – 30 January 1788) was the elder son of James Francis Edward Stuart, grandson of James II and VII, and the Stuart claimant to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1766 as Charles III. During his lifetime, he was also known as “the Young Pretender” and “the Young Chevalier”; in popular memory, he is known as Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Born in Rome to the exiled Stuart court, he spent much of his early and later life in Italy. In 1744, he travelled to France to take part in a planned invasion to restore the Stuart monarchy under his father. When the French fleet was partly wrecked by storms, Charles resolved to proceed to Scotland following discussion with leading Jacobites. This resulted in Charles landing by ship on the west coast of Scotland, leading to the Jacobite rising of 1745. The Jacobite forces under Charles initially achieved several victories in the field, including the Battle of Prestonpans in September 1745 and the Battle of Falkirk Muir in January 1746. However, by April 1746, Charles was defeated at Culloden, which effectively ended the Stuart cause. While there were subsequent attempts such as a planned French invasion in 1759, Charles was unable to restore the Stuart monarchy.


  ‘Lochaber No More – Prince Charlie leaving Scotland’, an 1863 painting by the artist John Blake MacDonald

With the Jacobite cause lost, Charles spent the remainder of his life on the continent, except for one secret visit to London. On his return, Charles lived briefly in France before he was exiled in 1748 under the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Charles eventually returned to Italy, where he spent much of his later life living in Florence and Rome. He had a number of mistresses before marrying Princess Louise of Stolberg-Gedern in 1772. In his later life, Charles’s health declined greatly and he was said to be an alcoholic. However, his escapades during the 1745 and 1746 uprising, as well as his escape from Scotland, led to his portrayal as a romantic figure of heroic failure. His life and the once possible prospects of a restored Stuart monarchy have left an enduring historical legend that continues to have a legacy today.


   Tomb of Charles, his father and brother in St Peter’s Basilica, Rome

Charles died in Rome of a stroke on 30 January 1788, aged 67. His brother the Cardinal Duke of York, who was present at the death, had the record read that he died on the morning of 31 January, as it was deemed unlucky to have him declared dead on the same date as the execution of his great-grandfather, King Charles I. Charles’s will left most of his estate to his heir, his daughter Charlotte. There were a few exceptions, including some plate for his brother Henry, as well as some annuities for his servants.

On his death, a cast of his face was made, and his body was embalmed and placed in a coffin of cypress wood. Adorned with the Order of the Thistle, the Cross of St Andrew, the Order of the Garter and the Cross of St George, Charles was first buried in Frascati Cathedral near Rome, where his brother Henry was bishop. At Henry’s death in 1807, Charles’s remains (except his heart) were moved to the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, where they were laid to rest next to those of his brother and father. This was below the spot where the monument to the Royal Stuarts by Antonio Canova would later be erected. His mother Maria is also buried nearby at St Peter’s. Charles’s heart remained in Frascati Cathedral, where it is contained in a small urn beneath the floor, under a monument.

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